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Ferrari Testarossa: an automotive icon combining passion and innovation

Toussus-le-Noble airport, 5 degrees.
The cold wind slides over the scarlet wings and mixes with the hoarse sound of a 12-cylinder atmospheric engine, set to an impeccable idle.
And yet, no P51 Mustang or Spitfire fighter in the vicinity.
The beautiful engine that is patiently warming up before our eyes is in a different category.
The Testarossa is just waking up, but already, a form of impatience to get moving is clearly perceptible

Welcome to the Ferrari myth

Welcome to the Ferrari myth, which we will share with you through this test drive, the full video of which you can see below.

Presented in October 1984 at the Paris Motor Show where it caused a sensation, the Ferrari Testarossa is now a "classic". Despite its age, it is still a very impressive car. Even by today's sports car standards, it is still exceptionally wide.
Very low and shorter than one would expect, it has an unusual ratio and a spectacular effect, accentuated by the huge air intakes that scar the sides.
However, this unique appearance is not the result of a simple search for style, far from it.
The design of the Testarossa was entirely dictated by extensive aerodynamic research and innovative technical provisions, the result of the joint work of Ferrari engineers and coachbuilder Pininfarina.
Their objective was tooptimize the balance and stability of the new model with the corollary of significantly improved comfort.

The Testarossa: a classic that defies time

Traditionally, the cooling radiator was positioned at the front of the car. This arrangement remained the rule for a long time, even though the engine had already moved to the rear of the most innovative racing cars and road sports cars. This principle is found on the Ferrari BB (365 GT4 BB, 512 BB and BBi) which precede the Testarossa and which, moreover, were the first 12-cylinder Ferrari road cars with central engine.

Ferrari 512 BB
Ferrari 512 BB

This design has several shortcomings in use, even though it is a sports car.

The space under the hood at the front is completely encumbered by the water and air conditioning radiators and their electric fans. A proper luggage compartment is impossible. In addition to traveling light, it is difficult to obtain a pleasant temperature in the cabin in any season. Indeed, the radiator at the front and the pipes that join the engine at the back along the cockpit disperse their calories on the way and especially in summer.

Maranello engineers solved these problems by adopting a solution imagined for racing (Ferrari 312 PB sport-proto 1971) by moving the radiators to the rear. Positioned just in front of the rear wheels and on each side of the engine, all the space under the front hood is freed up.
Here are the problems of the boot and thermal comfort solved, but, you may say, it is highly unlikely that this solution was developed for reasons of comfort on a racing car!

Indeed, the objective for the 312 PB was to re-center the masses.
Quick explanation: for a sports car, and even more so for a race car, one improves the handling as well as the stability by moving all the heavy components between the front and rear axles, thus eliminating the overhanging masses.

The Testarossa gets the same benefits. Two birds with one stone!

Ferrari 312 PB
Ferrari 312 PB Sport - Prototype

Aerodynamics and technical innovation at the heart of the design


However, it will not have escaped your attention that the Testarossa's 180° (flat) 12-cylinder engine is already very wide! With the radiators on either side, the entire rear end of the car is unusually wide.
This is where the aerodynamicists come in to make the most of the situation.

At the turn of the '70s and '80s, aerodynamic studies progressed rapidly.
The objectives for the Testarossa were to obtain a good coefficient of penetration in the air (Cx=0.36) and a perfect natural stability at very high speeds, of the order of 300 km/h, which the car would be capable of.
For this last point, it is necessary to try to cancel the lift, in order to maintain the car on the ground and to avoid the effect of unloading at high speed, a great concern of the first very fast sports cars.

By designing a cockpit that is set back from the sides and narrower than the car, the engineers took advantage of the rear wings' offset to give them an inverted airplane wing profile. The effect is the opposite of that of an airplane, and the car is pressed to the ground, providing the desired stability, without the need for any ailerons.

As is customary at Ferrari, these innovations are strongly influenced by the heritage and experience of racing. The fact that Pininfarina is equipped with a wind tunnel is not to be overlooked in the fact that this study could be carried out successfully.

The style of the Ferrari Testarossa was thus strongly determined by the solutions and technical evolutions defined during its study, solutions that greatly influenced this spectacular result.

The huge side air intakes are necessary to provide the fresh air required by the radiators to cool the engine.
The full-width rear grilles and engine hood are responsible for removing heat.
The new layout of the radiators in the sides improves comfort as well as cooling efficiency while freeing up space in the front for a large luggage compartment (which was severely lacking in the previous generation of the 365 and 512 BB).

The Testarossa also offers easy access to the car and a rather satisfactory visibility, even towards the rear, which is quite rare in practice with mid-engine cars.
However, before that, you have to grope around to find the door opening mechanism, elegantly hidden in the side air intake.

An authentic driving experience

Testarossa Interior

We decided to be two of us for this test drive in order to share our impressions while exchanging seats.
My passenger is immediately surprised by the space on board, the comfort of the seat, the brightness of the cabin (well helped in the daytime by the omnipresent light leather, right up to the roof lining) and the general smoothness of the car.
Indeed, here, there is no exhaust farting or mechanical roaring like we hear in modern sportscars. Despite the presence of a full stainless steel muffler that is slightly louder than the original one, the volume remains relatively measured, but still quite full.

In the end, it is rather the assertive and unexpected side of a large GT character that is revealed from the very first turns of the wheel.

The engine is certainly not absent from the soundtrack (we're still pushed by a 5-liter 12-cylinder engine with 380 horsepower on this latest version, already catalyzed), but it knows how to remain discreet at legal speeds, which we'll be happy with.
The suspensions are surprisingly considerate for such a fast car, especially compared to today's standards, and speed bumps are easily overcome if you remember the presence of the very long front overhang, otherwise, it's the front overhang that will noisily remind you!

The finish is much better than what the bad tongues like to repeat. As mentioned, the leather is omnipresent and well-made. The impeccable cream-colored leather of our example attests to this fact, even though it is 32 years old and has 64,000 km.
The fittings and various equipment are surprising and sometimes amusing, as their style and layout show an originality or personality that differs from the classicism of contemporary German productions.

This is the case with the battery of strange controls on the center console, linked to the heating and automatic air conditioning, the fog light switches on the roof console or the huge electrically operated glove box (yes, yes!) and the no less huge vanity mirror that is hidden in it and that unfolds thanks to a clever hinge system!
Only the ashtrays made of ugly hard plastoc, of which there are two and which are certainly illuminated, look terribly fake. As a result, the aerators, perhaps of esparto origin, manage to go unnoticed.

The flexibility of the engine and the precision of the gearbox

The first surprise as a passenger comes from the discovery ofa rather civilized car, as comfortable as pleasant from this seat.
The experience of driving the car is an opportunity to remember that this Ferrari was designed and built more than 40 years ago and that it has no power steering, no ABS, no traction control, in short, no driving aids!
On the other hand, the clutch is of the dual-disc type, which is used to transfer the engine torque, which is quite substantial. The pedal is not terribly hard like on some older Ferraris, but the friction point of this clutch is not easy to identify. The risk is either to stall if you rush, or to shorten its harsh existence if you linger to release it.
So, out of respect for the latter, you have to apply yourself a little and avoid useless dragster-like starts.

As soon as the Testarossa is in motion, first impressions contradict its truck-like reputation and the car proves to be very easy to steer, with one hand, from the lowest speeds.
Then, it is the incredible flexibility of this fantastic engine that amazes.

The enormous torque, available even at very low revs, guarantees that you can get going again without having to downshift, regardless of the gearbox ratio.
In 4th gear, at 1,000 rpm, i.e. less than 40 km/h, the Testarossa accelerates without any hiccups or hesitation and pushes harder and harder, giving the impression that it will never stop (which would almost be true on the racetrack, as 4th gear exceeds 220 km/h).

The gearbox doesn't offer the smoothest control available at the time, but once warmed up, a precise and decisive gesture allows you to engage the gears without difficulty with the satisfaction of a job well done, the reward coming from the little metallic tinkling sounds emitted by the lever on the traditional aluminum grid. A well-tuned gearbox control is imperative on the Testarossa.

Downshifts in sustained driving require a little more skill in the sense that double-clutching is strongly recommended in order to relieve the synchros and not to unnecessarily strain the gearbox and transmissions, the cost of which we will grace you with!

The brakes respond naturally with good bite and power that is beyond critical for road use, although the pedal could be more pleasant to attack (too much dead travel). We know, however, that their endurance under heavy use is not their main quality.

The handling and general behavior of this Ferrari are very convincing and even very natural. Despite the impressive width, which could lead to the fear of an awkward grip, it is not the case and Samuel handles the Testa as if he had always driven it, noting that the two large mirrors are quite useful to check that the rear end is passing!

Every time you start up again, you can't get enough of the pleasure of this thrust through all the gears, as if a big hand was grabbing your back, propelling you forward in a firm and continuous manner, but without excessive brutality. The incomparable pleasure of big atmospheric engines!

In conclusion, this is a Ferrari that, in a way, hides a part of its game.

Underneath its extravagant exterior, it turns out to be the perfect synthesis of the qualities expected from a big GT at the time of its conception, combining real comfort, very high performance and a strong sporty character with some practical aspects and a relative ease of use. All characteristics that very few, if any, cars in this category had at the time of its release.

This great success will be consecrated by an astonishing commercial success, the Testarossa being the first 12-cylinder Ferrari to reach such a production level. Indeed, 7,177 units will be sold in only 7 years (without counting the 512 TR and 512 M evolutions) against 2,323 BB all versions combined in more than 10 years.

Sources of the article
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